Thursday, November 3, 2016
Leeds, Sheffield, Chatsworth House, Bakewell
Morning Rush to Depart:
I awoke early on the top bunk of my bed in my dorm at the hostel in Leeds, got my stuff and myself organized and left with Shilpa for company (she was off to work) at 7.00 am to board a public bus to get me to Leeds Coach Station. I then got into a National Express coach leaving Leeds for Sheffield at 8.30. As I had loads of time to spare, I bought myself a croissant and a mocha latte from a café at the coach station and waited. My coach came soon enough and I was off. An hour later, I was in Sheffield where I found the Left Luggage Locker really easily. For just a pound a day, one can stash luggage in very secure lockers. I was relieved to find one as soon as I alighted from the coach. My entry into Sheffield was interesting as we got to the 'Interchange' coach station for we passed through the smithys that made Sheffield famous. When I was a little girl in India, we owned a set of stainless steel cutlery that my parents had received as a wedding present--it said Made in Sheffield on them. I never did dream that I would one day be in the city in which they were made!
By doing research on the Internet, I had discovered that a public bus No. 218 runs from Sheffield to Chatsworth House every half hour from the Interchange station. I found the gate from which it leaves and entered into conversation with two little old ladies who advised me to buy food from a kiosk at the station if I was headed to Chatsworth. Everything at Chatsworth costs an arm and a leg, they said. Accordingly, I bought a chicken and mushroom pasty and a scone oozing Yorkshire cream and strawberry jam--with a bottle of water. They would see me through most of the day.
The bus arrived on schedule and cost me five pounds for a return ticket. I took my favorite seat--top deck, front and center--and enjoyed the joy ride through little villages outside of Sheffield before we left urban environs behind to enter into the more rural parts of southern Yorkshire. In a few minutes, we were entering Derbyshire and the Peak District National Park where Chatsworth House is located. Sheep started to punctuate the landscape as did cows and horses. I started to feel my excitement mount.
Exploring Chatsworth House:
So where was I headed? And what is Chatsworth House? And why is it on a tourist map? Well, among Britain's grand houses and country estates, Chatsworth ranks way up there with such extravagant properties as Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard. It has a long and complicated history that dates back to the 1500s when the original house was built in Tudor style by an Earl called William Cavendish and his wife who was known as Bess of Hardwicke. This original house was almost entirely destroyed (by a fire, I believe) but upon its foundations, the current house was built in the 18th century by a descendant. One of these descendant Earls (I forget which one) was a Royalist and fought hard to put William and Mary on the throne of England after the ouster of James II. For his pains, he was made a Duke and was given the title Duke of Devonshire. It is a title that all his descendants continue to use to this day. This Duke also built a palatial set of State Apartments with the idea of hosting and housing the new King and Queen who had arrived from Orange. However, they never did make it to Chatsworth House--and so the most gorgeous rooms in the house) the ones that are the grandest show pieces of the house tour) were never used by royalty.
It was hard for me to keep track of which Duke did what to the house--there are too many of them and each one added bits and bobs to it to make it the place it is today. In modern times, the most famous Duchess was Deborah--one of the Mitford sisters who was beautiful (photographed extensively by Cecil Beaton), talented and clever. She and her husband Andrew Cavendish gained the title quite suddenly when Andrew's older brother was killed in World War II. Not only did they inherit a title and the ancient pile but also a massive debt which led them to form a Trust in whose care the place was entrusted. The Trust continues to run it today. Deborah and Andrew Cavendish's oldest son Peregrine is the 12th and current Duke of Devonshire and he is married to a woman called Amanda Lonsdale.
From the minute you enter this grand manor, you are confronted by opulence with a capital OH!!! Every aspect of the interior is Over The Top. The outside looks rather plain--a square structure with little to commend it--but the moment, you enter the main door, boy, are you overwhelmed! The interior beggars description, but I will say this: most striking are the ceilings that are entirely painted by the Italian artist, AntonioVerrio. They are modeled after Fontainblue and other grand chateaux of the Loire Valley in France and have every decorative detail that is to be found there. In the Main Entrance, the tableau celebrating Ceasar and placing King William in that guise is quite ingenious. It sets the tone for the rest of the rooms. Thus, painting, sculpture, decorative objects and furniture combine to impress at every level.
Meanwhile, the current Duke and Duchess, who still live on the premises in a part of the House, are avid collectors and you will find contemporary artists very well represented such as Henry Moore and Martin Flannagan and Emily Young. There is a fully carved Oak Room with barley-twist wooden pillars and carved busts on the walls. There is a stupendous Library that the family still uses--it has about 30,000 titles from the old to the new. There are staircases with more paintings and sculpture than you can possibly take in. There is a massive Dining Room which has held state banquets through the centuries. There are also rooms crammed with Old Master paintings and corridors also filled with them. There is a whole section devoted to the most famous Duchess of Devonshire, Georgian Spencer, an ancestor of Diana Spencer--who had an unhappy a marriage as did Diana (the movie The Duchess starring Kiera Knightley is based on her tragic life). She lived famously in a ménage a trois with her best friend Katherine Foster and husband the Duke. There is a grand painting of her in a special wing as well as the semi-precious stones she collected in their uncut state.
As for the State Apartments, well, what can I say? They are simply spectacular. Some have leather tooled walls, others have trompe l'oeil paintings on them. Some are filled with paintings by Veronese and Canaletto. There are bedrooms and closets chockful of porcelain and china that is artfully arranged on the walls. In one room, there are water colors by Michaelangelo and Rafael as well as a painting by Rembrandt. Truly, I was overwhelmed by what I saw and at the end of two whole hours of reading the room cards and inspecting most of the major art works, I was seriously exhausted. My senses felt saturated by what I had seen and I could not take in another stick of furniture! It was with relief that I entered the Sculpture Gallery and found it filled with works by Antonio Canova (his Sleeping Endymion is exquisite and his twin lions are simply stunning). Thankfully, this is the last room and I reached it with supreme relief.
I almost lost a glove by the time I reached the huge shop--I noticed that it had slipped out of my pocket...but thankfully, retracing my steps through just two rooms led me to it--draped on a sign post. I could have cried with relief.
I must add that armies of staff were in the process of decorating Chatsworth for Christmas. It would be closing the next day and then re-opening a week later with a larger ticket price (I had already paid 20 pounds) for the festive season. I felt pleased that I got a glimpse into most of the Christmas decorations--albeit unofficially--without having to fork out an extra 5 pounds.
So what did I think of Chatsworth? I think it is absolutely worth traveling half way across the country to see. However, my visit was not over--not yet. For a major attraction of Chatsworth are its gardens and since I had been advised to buy a ticket for 4 pounds that would take me around most of the estate on a 45 minute buggy ride with a running commentary by a guided staff member, it was a no brainer. That was precisely what I did. And a fiver was never more profitably spent!
The Gardens at Chatsworth:
The garden tour introduced me and two other visitors to the work of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown who created the rolling hills and sprawling lawns and to the additions of Joseph Paxton who built the rockery, the rock garden and planted the stone arches. There is an incredible Grotto with a smallish pond in which every tree planted on the banks is reflected as if in a mirror.
Autumn has brought burnished hints and hues to the gardens and with sugar maples and copper beeches, Japanese dwarf maples and ash trees shedding their foliage, there were multi-colored carpets and what appeared to be yellow brick roads leading to infinity. Sculpture dotted the gardens profusely together with steps, fountains, cascades, even a maze. There were formal (Elizabeth Knot gardens) and informal bits (herb gardens).
Chatsworth also has a huge Farm Stand where locally grown produce is sold. In the shop, there is honey made by estate bees and a number of plain and fancy preserves--all made from fruit and veg that is organically grown. There are also green houses and vines that produce Muscat grapes from which wine is made--bottles of it are also sold in the shop. It appears that being laden with debt, Deborah found that turning the estate to profit would be the best way to stay afloat. There is no way any human being could see the extensive acreage of this place on foot--taking the buggy was the best tip I could have received and I was very grateful. Yes, the gardens are part and parcel of the House and I do believe they ought to receive just as much attention as do the interiors.
Rest and Retail Therapy:
Feeling quite drained by the experience of touring the house and viewing the gardens, I went in search of the café and got myself a coffee. I ate my pasty in the spacious environs of a café that was almost as large as a restaurant and offered multiple choices. These bits of the estate are located in what used to be the stables--they are stone-clad and sturdy and look posh and rustic at the same time.
After about half an hour, I went in search of the goodies in the shops. Christmas décor was everywhere and all merchandise is displayed at their attractive best. I poked around but not being in the market for anything, did not dip into my wallet.
Off to Bakewell:
After wandering around for a bit, I realized that I still had about two hours before I needed to reach Sheffield to get my evening's coach to London. That was when it hit me that I could take the same bus for a further fifteen minutes to the village of Bakewell--famous for its Tart and its pudding. Feeling a little nervous to make the onward journey because the last thing I wanted was to miss my coach, I decided to hope for the best and take my chances.
Ten minutes later, a bus came along and another fifteen minutes later, we were entering the little village of Bakewell. It was already about 4.30 and light was fast fading. Still, I have to say that I was determined to see what I could and to taste the dessert for which the village has become internationally known.
The bus dropped me off at the town center just past the picturesque bridge over the burbling brook that leads one into the village. I raced to a shop to buy a postcard and a magnet and discovered that the shop in which the pudding originated and which is most famous (although ever second café serves us the treat) was just around the corner.
Tasting Bakewell's Famous Pudding:
Known as the Original Bakewell Pudding Co., it really was just a few steps away. It is a charming and very quaint spot with blackened timbers and a very low entrance. The café is upstairs and after I was seated, I ordered a pot of tea and a serving of the pudding (as someone in the shop had told me that the pudding is preferable to the tart). And how fabulous it was! It has a crisp filo-like pastry shell, a creamy almond filling and a layer of raspberry jam. It was served with a small pitcher of custard and I have to say it was unexpectedly delectable. A single serving cost 5 pounds and with the pot of tea costing me 2. 50 pounds, I had a very early dinner right there!
I wandered then around the little village with its uniformly grey stone walls and its cobbled streets. There were a lot of lovely shop windows and eye-catching displays everywhere as well as the Rutland Arms Hotel right in the middle of the cross roads. I would have enjoyed browsing through the narrow lanes lined with enticing shops--but light was fading quickly. Plus at exactly 5.00 pm, all the shops closed as if in harmony together.
My bus that would take me back to Sheffield was due at 5. 07 pm--it would arrive in Sheffield at 6.00 pm to leave me enough time to retrieve my backpack from the Left Luggage Locker and find my gate for my return coach to London at 6. 30 pm.
And indeed, despite my nervousness (what if the bus broke down somewhere???), we made it to Sheffield with time to spare. I got my bag out and found the gate for National Express departure. I had a lovely companion en route named Ellie Stevens--a student at Sheffield University and in her company, the miles were eaten away. I did get a nap for a good one hour and ate my creamy scone en route and by the time I was waking up, we were arriving in Milton Keynes and Ellie was saying goodbye.
About 90 minutes later, we were skirting London. I got off at Marble Arch and took the Central Line Tube home. I was opening my door at about 11.00 pm. and given the miles I had covered, all I could do was throw myself on my bed and pass out.
Until tomorrow, cheerio...